4 Common PCS Entitlement Questions Answered

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Do you have questions about your PCS entitlements? The money -- how much it is and how to get it -- that comes with a permanent change of station (PCS) move can be confusing. Here are some answers to the most common PCS money questions.

Do we still get full per diem if we stay with friends and family?

"Per diem" is a fancy phrase for the money you get paid for each allotted official travel day. It is paid per-person on your PCS orders, which is typically based off who is registered as your service member's dependent in Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). It is designed to cover lodging, meals and incidentals. It's paid whether you use all of it or not.

If you stay in an expensive hotel or several rooms because your family is too big for one room, and you go over this amount, you will pay the difference. If you stay in a really cheap hotel and the cost is under this amount, you pocket the difference. So, if you don't stay in a hotel at all but choose to camp, stay with friends or sleep in your car (do not recommend) you still get the full per diem for that day.

The Joint Travel Regulation (JTR) lays out all the details for PCSing, including per diem rates. How per diem is calculated is based on location. Make sure to also note that the percentages for dependents vary based on age.

If we take less or more time than they allot us, is that ok?

You may have heard you have a certain number of days to get from Location A to Location B and wondered what that actually means.

First, let's look at the math and the JTR. The rules in the JTR allot 350 miles a day, which comes out to about six hours of driving, as a travel day. If the remainder of the miles are more than 50 (after dividing your total mileage by 350) you'll be allotted one extra day. This means if traveling from Marine Corps Camp Pendleton, California to Norfolk, Virginia, you'd be traveling 2,745 miles and allotted eight days.

You can take less time to get there or, as long as your service members orders reflect extra leave time, more. The per diem payment, however, is calculated based on that JTR rule, so whatever it says is how you'll get paid for your travel. Since that hypothetical trip is eight days, you'll get eight days worth of per diem. If you take 10 days, you'll need to make that money stretch or come out of pocket. If you take five, you'll have extra.

What if I want to fly instead of drive with my service member?

This may be a less common question, but once you learn about this, it's hard to ignore. Here's the deal. The per diem rate is for people driving. If the service member is traveling alone, they mark "unaccompanied" on the voucher.

But then what happens with travel allowances for his or her dependents?

Dependents are authorized to travel via "common carrier," which includes airlines, according to the JTR. They will be reimbursed for the ticket and per diem. But that per diem is based on the travel time, which for most people flying within the U.S. is one day. As for the plane ticket, it will only be reimbursed up to what the government would have paid for the ticket, and it must be with one of the airlines that are part of the Pentagon’s City Pair Program. The best way to learn more about that is to check with your local transportation office prior to purchasing tickets.

The per diem for those dependents traveling without their service member is 100% per diem for one dependent, 75% for those over 12 and 50% for those under 12, provided they are all traveling together.

Will the military ship my car?

Whether or not the military will pay to move a vehicle is among the commonly asked questions around PCSing -- especially for families who have more than one vehicle.

The answer is almost always "no," but there are exceptions.

The first is when moving OCONUS, including to Hawaii, Alaska or other non-contiguous areas of the U.S. In that case the military will pay to ship one vehicle.

The second exception is for those in the Navy who are doing a home port move. If you have 12 months or more on your contract and you are PCSing due to a home port move, the military will ship one of your vehicles to your new home port. If you have other questions about whether you qualify for vehicle shipment, check with your service member's local transportation office and their orders.

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--Rebecca Alwine can be reached at rebecca.alwine@monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebecca_alwine.

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